When the Tampa Bay Lightning and Chicago Blackhawks face off Wednesday in the Stanley Cup Final opener, hockey fans will see two players of color who’ve been indispensable to their teams.
Right wing J.T. Brown has been a key role player for the Lightning ever since he was promoted from the American Hockey League’s Syracuse Crunch in 2013-14 after All-Star forward Steven Stamkos suffered an injury. The Blackhawks’ Johnny Oduya is vying for his second Stanley Cup and has grown into one of Chicago’s top defensemen.
What fans watching the final probably won’t see are two coaches of color who’ve been vital behind the scenes to the Lightning’s quest for the Cup.
Frantz Jean is the Lightning goalie coach who puts starting netminder Ben Bishop and backup Andrei Vasilevskiy through their paces in practice and strives to keep them on an even keel during the emotional rollercoaster that is the playoffs.
Bishop out-dueled Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price, a league Most Valuable Player candidate, and New York Rangers all-world netminder Henrik Lundqvist in the playoffs to earn the right to face Chicago sharpshooters Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad in the final round.
“From our perspective, Ben’s doing nothing different,” Jean told The Tampa Tribune earlier in May. “Except now he’s on a bigger stage.”
Bishop heads into the Stanley Cup Final with a 12-8 playoff record, 2.15 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage. During the 2014-15 regular season, Bishop won 40 games, fourth-best among NHL goalies, and lost only 13 contests. His 2.32 goals-against average was 15th best in the league.
Jean has presided over the Lightning organization’s goaltending since 2010. Under his tutelage, Tampa Bay goaltending prospects playing for the AHL Norfolk Admirals and ECHL Florida Everblades vied for league championships in 2012.
Then-Lightning property Dustin Tokarski – now with the Montreal Canadiens – finished the 2012 AHL playoffs with the best save percentage and goal-against average and led the league with 32 wins in the 2011-12 regular season.
Jean joined the Lightning organization after coaching for 12 years with the Moncton Wildcats of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. His Moncton netminders allowed the fewest goals in the league in the 1999-00, 2005-06, 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons.
A Montreal native, Jean coached goalies on Hockey Canada’s Under-18 teams that won Gold Medals at Ivan Hlinka Memorial International Tournaments in 2009 and 2010.
In the six degrees of separation of the hockey world, Jean can take some credit if the Blackhawks defeat his Lightning for the Stanley Cup. He coached Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford at Moncton.
“I’ve seen him grow from a teen to a man,” Jean told CSN Chicago recently. “When I see the work he had to go into the minors, to pay his dues and learn to be a consistent goaltender and then to be able to duplicate that in the pros, I’m very proud of him.”
Crawford is apparently still fond of his old coach. “A great coach, an awesome guy,” he told The Tampa Times in 2013. “He was great technique-wise, and for my mental game, taking care of myself and learning that aspect, too, getting rest at the right time. He definitely helped me moving on to pro hockey.”
Jean is a newcomer to the Lightning when compared to video coach Nigel Kirwan. He’s been with the ‘Bolts since the team’s inaugural season in 1992. He worked in the Lightning’s ticket sales office before then-Head Coach Terry Crisp made him a video coach in the 1996-97 season.
Initially, he thought Crisp’s job offer was a joke.
“I basically told him to go fly a kite,” Kirwan told TampaBayLightning.com in 2012. “Crispy was a prankster and loved to rile the office up so my immediate reaction was that he was trying to get me going. I also had a report due to my boss that was already late so I told him to just get out of my office.”
But Crisp, now a studio analyst for the Nashville Predators, pressed Kirwan because “I saw something in him,” he told TampaBayLightning.com. “He knew the game, he loved the game, and his personality fit right in with our staff. He fit right in like a hand in a glove,” Crisp added.
Now Kirwan serves as a keen set of eyes for Tampa Bay’s coaching staff and players. He breaks down pre-scout and game film and helps formulate scouting reports on opposing players. He performed the same tasks for Team USA at the 2008 and 2009 International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships.
Born in Jamaica and raised in Winnipeg, Kirwan hoisted the Stanley Cup when the Lightning won it in 2004. Only the Blackhawks stand in the way of him doing it again.